Archive for December, 2014

Twitter and Social Justice

Posted: December 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Twitter and Facebook are two of the most popular social networking sites – they also happen to be powerful devices in social justice movements. This comes to mind because over the past two weeks, I have participated in four protests that demonstrate the outrage within my community over the unlawful deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. I shared photos of these protests with hash-tags such as #EricGarner, #MikeBrown and #ShutItDown in between the links I have shared about my blog. Statistics show that black men are incarcerated at a disproportionately higher rate than any other type of male in the United States. This fact is merely one of the many examples of how black people and in particular, black men, are still discriminated against in this country. The problem is that the racism in this country is so deeply rooted within American culture that it is the norm and those of the majority are often not able to recognize it. Also,  I don’t think the justice system was designed to protect black people.

I found out about each of these protests via Facebook and Twitter. Facebook allowed me to invite other Facebook friends to join me and I could also see which of my Facebook friends were already going as well as how the turnout of each protest was going to be. Twitter came in handy as I showed up late to some of the protests, but people tend to live tweet so if the protest was moving around, I could follow the live tweets and located where the protestors were. Facebook and Twitter served as the bridge of communication for large groups of people that wished to come together for the same cause. This makes me think of the role social media played during the Arab Spring.

The protests were meant to address the fact that the judicial system is obviously flawed and so social media users took to Twitter and Facebook to express their grievances. Of course, the trolls were in full effect. When scrolling through my timeline, I saw many people making extremely negative comments in relation to the deaths of many of these unarmed black men. One comment I saw often that really made me angry stated something to the effect of, “if black people would stop breaking the law then police would stop shooting unarmed black men”. As if black people are the only ones that break the law. As if the men that have been shot had to have been committing a crime for police to have shot them. I know racism is an uncomfortable topic for some people to talk about, never mind the fact that others live and fight against it day in and day out. This brings me to Dorthy Kim’s blog, The Rules of Twitter. I found this post particularly interesting as she discusses the uses of Twitter in relation to ethics. Kim’s assessment of the uses of Twitter as a mediated public space, a mediated public protest space and a space for public community grief, are incredibly accurate.

On discussing Twitter as a digital mediated public space, Kim focuses on how some Twitter users feel that Twitter’s demise is due to its transformation from a “back porch”, to a bustling “Broadway”. The difference is that this back porch invokes the image of a predominantly white suburb and Broadway is like multiracial NYC. She defines its abandonment by some classes as “digital white flight”. Though I know what “white flight” and “white fear” mean, I was not aware of the fact that many middle class white male Twitter users are dissatisfied with how open it is to the masses. I feel that this is a subtle form of racism, so this could be an explanation as to why so many people feel the need to make nasty comments in relation to Ferguson and other similar events, although everyone in my community is hurting.

Kim also describes Twitter as a space for public community grief and I think Kim nails it when she states communities that are affected by tragedy should be the focus, and not individuals that choose to be allies. This is a recurring issue I am witnessing with the protests in relation to Ferguson. We have many white allies that support our cause for justice but white demonstrators tend to step in the spotlight. Oftentimes they will be the ones that provoke police officers and turn the protests into riots, but it is black people who will make the headlines for being “thugs”. The support is appreciated from our white counterparts, but they just need to be a little more mindful of why they are even there – to support the black community and to advocate for equality.

This reminds me of the promotional video we watched on Kony2012. As I watched the video, I recall seeing the majority of the American volunteers were white which was a huge contrast to the “poor” black African children. The image this video presented demonstrated “the white man’s burden” which I feel is a subtle form of white supremacy and self entitlement. This also makes me think of all of those movies Hollywood loves to make where the middle class white teachers go into the poor black community and save the “ghetto” children. Movies like Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers. It may not be explicit, but these sorts of movies are quietly conveying the idea that white people are the saviors. We are all people and we just have different sin colors so I will never be able to fully comprehend why “the white man’s burden” seems to be legitimate in this country.

During slavery, black people were not considered people, but rather property. In 2014, we may no longer be considered property, but still we are not seen as equals. As long as the judicial system continues to disregard the value of black lives, the protests will continue and social media will continue to play its role in the organization and news coverage of these movements. Please understand I have no animosity towards white people whatsoever. I am discussing the way our society has been structured.

 

The “Cyber Struggle”

Posted: December 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

In an earlier post entitled “Navigating the Web of Legislation”, I discussed how in 2012, Albany County attempted to respond to cyberbullying by passing a law that makes participating in cyberbullying, a crime. This law was the response to a case involving a 15 year old high school student by the name of Marquan Mackey-Meggs, who was also the first to be charged under this law. The then teenager, who was a student of Cohoes High School, created a Facebook page entitled “Cohoes Flame page”. The contents of this page included graphic and sexual comments about his peers ranging between ages 13 to 16. Mackey-Meggs would post photos of other students and would include insulting captions about whoever was in the photo. He identified some of the students that were listed on his page as individuals he has performed sexual acts with. He also accused some students of being promiscuous, listing their alleged sexual partners, and labeling some of them as “sluts”.
Police were able to track down Mackey-Meggs by his IP address and charged him as an adult with eight counts of violating the Albany cyberbullying law as well as harassment. He told police the page was meant to be funny and it sounds to me as if he were trolling. As mentioned in an earlier post, trolling entails making nasty comments about others via the internet with the intent to inflict emotional pain as well as get a rise out of viewers.
The Cohoes judge dismissed the harassment charges but not the charges on cyberbullying counts which can result in a fine of up to $1000 as well as one year in prison. Mr. Mackey-Meggs pleaded guilty to one of the counts of cyberbullying, but only on the condition that he could challenge if the law was constitutional in higher state courts. His sentence was three years probation.
Summer of 2014, New York’s highest court deemed Albany County’s cyberbullying law unconstitutional being that it is too broad and it also violates the First Amendment’s protection of speech. Albany County Local Law C’s description of cyberbullying goes as follows: “sending hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person”. Because the law was deemed as too broad, the courts are in the process of narrowing it down.
The majority of cyberbullying for teenagers does not happen via email, it happens via social media networks. The intent of the law is good and lawmakers are acknowledging the fact that cyberbullying is a problem that is only worsening as technology continues to advance. What is difficult is defining what actually constitutes as bullying. I supposed extreme examples of aggression, such as insisting someone kill themselves, could easily be classified as bullying. But what about the expression of other forms of negativity that are not as extreme? There’s also no way to include every single word in the dictionary one could use to inflict harm as examples of bullying and words can easily be interpreted differently. Lawmakers have their work cut out for them, but they are indeed trying.

 

A Subculture of Hate

Posted: December 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

As technology continues to advance, the platforms in which cyberbullying can be perpetuated continue to multiply. As mentioned in the ‘About Me’ section of this blog, one of the purposes of social networking is merely for entertainment, but social networks that are dedicated to cyberbullying for entertainment purposes are on the rise.

One example of such a social networking site is 4chan. 4chan is an image and message board created by then 15 year old Christopher Poole. It was designed to resemble the Japanese message boards 2chan and Futaba. Users may upload photos and comment on photos in complete anonymity.It is the birthplace of the wildly popular memes, which are photos with humorous captions on them. They generally involve making fun of whoever is in the photo and because the use of 4chan is in complete anonymity, there is no limit to what photos users can post and what captions they can include on the photos. There is also no limit to what comments users may leave on these photos. Anyone can become a victim on 4chan.

One case of cyberbullying on 4chan involves an eleven year old that goes by the name of “Jessi Slaughter”. The 11 year old girl was rumored to be involved with the lead singer of an Emo band and some of her peers were jealous of her and began calling her names such as “slut”. Jessi’s response: “If you can’t stop hating, you know what? I’ll pop a glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy.” This comment was posted on 4chan’s /b/ message board where bullying seems to be the most intense and all of her personal information was posted online. People began tormenting her relentlessly and doing what is now called “trolling”. Trolling is posting hateful comments just for attention or to get a rise out of everyone that can read the comments. Some trolls suggested Jessi kill herself and her response was a video of her crying profusely while her dad yells at the camera in the background.

Cyber bully expert and attorney Parry Aftab covered the Jessi Slaughter case on Good Morning America, thus making herself a target to 4chan users. They shut down her websites wiredsafety.org and aftab.com, vandalized her information on Wikipedia and created a malicious rumor accusing her of child molestation. Aftab was supposed to do a follow up report on the Jessi Slaughter case the next day but instead, she chose not to return to GMA to discuss the topic. The cyberbullying expert had been relentlessly cyberbullied! Go figure.

Another social networking site that has gained popularity because it advocates cyber bullying is Encyclopedia Dramatica. I think the name itself is pretty self-explanatory. Encyclopedia Dramatica is a self-described parody of an encyclopedia that offers politically incorrect descriptions. Many of the posts on Encyclopedia Dramatica are racist or sexually explicit. The majority of posts are done by trolls. Anonymity tends to be a troll’s best friend.

One example of how Encyclopedia Dramatica contributed to cyberbullying was in the case of 13 year old UK teen, Sam Leeson. In 2008, Sam committed suicide after being taunted by bullies on the social networking website Bebo. Sam was often targeted by trolls because he was goth-emo. People that dress and listen to music of this lifestyle are often targeted by bullies because they are a little different than mainstream. Eventually, it got to the point where Sam could not take it anymore and he hung himself in his bedroom. The Encyclopedia Dramatica page dedicated to Sam is filled with hateful comments about the deceased teenager. Some of the trolling includes cartoons of Sam with a noose around his neck and even a video depicting a parody of Sam’s death exists on YouTube as well. It is devastating for Sam’s family to see this hateful page and Sam’s death being made a mockery of is not the first and will not be the last.

What is really scary about these social networking sites that are dedicated to cyber bullying is just that – the sites exists solely to inflict emotional pain to its victims. These “communities” are a sub culture of the social networking culture, and are constantly growing and gaining popularity. Many social networking sites offer an option to users to “report abuse”, but one can see why this would not exist on websites that are dedicated to cyber bullying. Encyclopedia Dramatica, like many of these other hateful websites, hides behind “free speech”. Victims should steer clear of these types of websites at all costs, and most importantly, don’t feed the trolls!